Saturday, February 28, 2009

Nike's Web Site is AWFUL!

Okay, I just went to Nike's website for the first, and probably last, time. In about 3 minutes, I was severely hampered by 4 major problems:

  1. The front door requires you to select a language. However, something bizarre is going on in the interface, because try as I might, I could not get it to "take" my selection of English.
  2. But I did succeed in selecting Czech. And once I selected Czech, that selection was cached in my browser, and I could not get back to the select language front door--it always took me right into the Czech-localized version of the site.
  3. I attempted to overcome that problem by using a different browser, and using a search to enter the U.S.-localized site via a deep link.
  4. My first try at this brought me in the wrong door, and when I tried back up, I found that Nike had committed the unpardonable sin of re-directing the back button. Easily overcome, but highly irritating.
  5. Finally, when I got to the right door, I was greeted by the "Download flash to use this site" message. Eventually, I found my way to the non-flash option (not easy to find, buried, in favor of requiring people to go install flash).
  6. At this point, I was quite exhausted, and when my first search failed, I didn't have the energy to keep searching. Good-bye, Nike.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

How Could Obama's Speechwriters Let This Slip?

"And I believe the nation that invented the automobile cannot walk away from it."

First of all, a nation didn't invent the automobile, an individual, a small group or at most a company invented it. Not a nation. And second, the nation in which the inventors, Daimler and Maybach, lived, was Germany, not America.

I love my country, the United States, I subscribe to a significant extent in American Exceptionalism, and I fervently hope our best days are not behind us. But holding such beliefs does not, should not, require frequent, incorrect, un-supported assertions such as:
  • Americans are the hardest-working people in the world (that title probably goes to subsistence farmers in any number of undeveloped locales). I don't want to be the hardest-working person. I would like to be the smartest-working person.
  • Our [blank] system is the best in the world...clinging to that outdated belief might explain why we have tolerated decades of excessive inflation in healthcare costs.
  • We invented the English language.
  • Our companies and workers can out-compete anybody, if given a level playing field.
That kind of mindless semi-jingoism doesn't serve anybody well.

(Note: I can easily forgive this mistake on the part of a busy President, but the speechwriters have not excuse.)

Shipping from Home

I don't know what rock I have hiding under, but I have just discovered self-service online shipping. Just create your UPS or USPS account, print your label, schedule your pickup, and you are done. You don't really even have to worry about weighing the package too closely, because if you are off, they will just charge you more or less accordingly.

Being a procrastinator about certain things--I hate special trips for just one thing, such as shipping--it tends to take me a long time to get things shipped. Why in the world I didn't catch on to this idea sooner, I don't quite know. I take it as an indictor of how strongly consumer habits can be, once formed.

Monday, February 23, 2009

I Wish Comcast Would Try Harder to Tell Me

...when their service is down. I'm sure there are all kinds of reasons they can't do it perfectly, but it would go a long way if they could even tell me "there may be problems in your area". I would think it would help them, too--fewer problem calls to answer.

There are so many ways to communicate now, even if the problem is that internet is down, it would be great to receive a text telling me that.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

$40 MM Video Games

This article, which discusses how video game production budgets are going up faster than revenues, is another example of an economy that has grown dependent on doing things the expensive way.

Verizon Landline Alternative Will Fail

This is the wrong solution at the wrong time. At $30/month, and a big up-front cost, and no compelling features, the Verizon Hub is a loser. A winning proposition needs to conform to the spirt of the times, which would be--finding a cheaper way to deliver value. My exhibit in this category would be T-Mobile's @Home landline replacement, which gives you a feature rich, unlimited minutes and long distance solutions for a mere $10/month added to your cell bill.

Microsoft Retail Stores

Microsoft is copying Apple and opening up retail stores. My prediction: they will bomb. I just don't see what products MicroSoft has that are crying out for this distribution channel. (For the record, I didn't think retail stores for Apple would be successful, either.)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Japan's Banking Crisis

Only in 2003 did the government finally take the actions that helped lead to a recovery: forcing major banks to submit to merciless audits and declare bad debts; spending two trillion yen to effectively nationalize a major bank, wiping out its shareholders; and allowing weaker banks to fail.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Institutional Thinking

David Brooks: ...institutional thinking is eroding. Faith in all institutions, including charities, has declined precipitously over the past generation, not only in the U.S. but around the world. Lack of institutional awareness has bred cynicism and undermined habits of behavior. Bankers, for example, used to have a code that made them a bit stodgy and which held them up for ridicule in movies like "Mary Poppins." But the banker's code has eroded, and the result was not liberation but self-destruction.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

SharePoint Checkout Model

In VSS, you check out to a folder. VSS remembers that folder. When you have a file checked out, you can manipulate it offline is as you see fit, all VSS knows is the filename. So as long as you check in a file with the same name, VSS is happy.

In SharePoint, the user is not involved in determining where the file is checked out to. Conceptually, it seems like you check the file out to an invisible "stream" (to use ClearCase terminology). One problem is that doesn't let you work offline. There are some good things about it, in that the user doesn't have to think about the check-out location of the doc. So it is less versatile, but simpler for the typical user.

But even that mental model seems broken. Because when you have a file checked out, a mere Save causes it to update the current copy with your work-in-process save. That seems very wrong. You should be able to save, but not have your updated version merged into the mainline stream until you are ready. At which time you would explicitly check it in. But that doesn't seem to be how SP works. As soon as you save, it seems to be checked in.

In fact, unless I am missing something (which seems probable) the only reason that SP needs a check out/check-in would seem to be to reserve the file for future use!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Thoughts on Health Care Reform

Although looking for government involvement/intervention/deep regulation to solve a problem is usually a last resort, the problem of ravenously increasing healthcare spending does not appear to be an ordinary problem. This has been considered a major problem for pretty much my entire adult life (20+ years). It only seems to have gotten worse. I am afraid, now, that Republicans/conservatives have completely ignored this situation too long, to their detriment.

However, I dearly hope we will not just dump more $ into system that we already agree consumes too much money and resources. Let's experiment with some kind of alternative, much leaner systems. Some ideas:
  • Employ salaried doctors, not independent contractors, like the famous Mayo Clinic does
  • Implement super, super aggressive management of prescriptions. It goes without saying that only generics should be used, where they are an option. In all cases, have a bias toward starting with the most cost-effective medicine, before escalating to the latest and greatest.
  • Pass special tort reform, to eliminate defensive medicine.
  • Consider aggressive, HMO-style gate-keeping. For instance, perhaps patients should always have to call the "nurse line" before coming to the doctor's office, to eliminate visits for routine colds, etc.
  • Make aggressive use of the most cost-effective skill-set: don't use LPNs for stuff RNs can do, don't use Physician's Assistants where RNs can do, etc.
  • Make aggressive use of wellness coaching--participation is not optional.
  • Implement disciplined regionalization of procedures. Patients have to go to the approved, efficient facility in the region, not the one they might find most convenient.
  • Keep some element of the first-dollar motivation that HSAs provide, even if it has to be on a sliding scale.
  • Obviously we want to look at streamlined administrative options.
  • Use expensive infrastructure 24x7.
  • Take a very tough line on necessity of treatments. Just in my extended family, I know of a number of cases where prescribed treatment has been unnecessary or useless. This article that suggests most TMJ suffers might do best with no treatment is a good case study. Or back surgery!